Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Colugo sighting

I saw my first colugo Galeopterus variegatus a couple of years ago while doing some night shoot. As it turned out, and much to my pleasure, it was to be the first of many encounters. During the latest sighting, I was eventually successful in capturing some decent shots of this elusive critter, a most accomodating juvenile who does not mind to have pictures taken.

In my opinion, Colugo is the most iconic creature of the Singapore wilds, - it is the only gliding relative of the primates, unique to this region (only found in SE Asian forests), adorable yet untamable(it has not been successfully kept in any zoos before). It inhabits only the primary forests, a highly vulnerable habitat, and so itself is in a very precarious position. A recent survey shows there are still about 2 thousand of these creatures gliding around in Singapore's woods - which is not a bad number at all.

I was a little disappointed it did not glide for me this time, but took comfort in the assumption that it was probably not too intimidated by me. I wish this little critter all the best in Singapore's shrinking forest....

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Raffles Hotel for Formicids

When modern Singapore's founding father Stamford Raffles returned to this tiny island in 1822, he found himself in a rough patch with William Farquhar, the deputy he empowered to govern this island before he sailed to Bencoolen to further his ambitions. Farquhar's apparent laissez faire style of governance was just not of his liking, although the local businesses were having a roaring good time, not just in mainstream commerce, mind you, but also in gambling, opium trade, slavery and other unmentionables that were part and parcel of the roaring good time.

Raffles would have none of it, and promptly outlawed all of these.... his strict moralistic upbringing clashing heads on with the old man and his pro-business ideas....

In between the reeling and dealing, Raffles took to exploring the woods with his botanist friend, Nathaniel Wallich, an activity he was known to enjoy very much. During one of their excursions in Singapore's wilds, they found this strange ant-harbouring Dischidia vine.
Each vine was observed to bear two types of leaf, one that looks like small flat tortoise shell hollowed out on the inside and the other that looks kind of like pitchers of Nepenthes with a very small opening. For wandering ants seeking a roof over their heads, these leaves would draw them like a pundit to a soapbox, a gambler to a casino or any man left standing, after the Decepticons' onslaught, to Megan Fox.... gratitude, the tenants would crap and leave whatever bodily leftovers inside the leaf, providing the malnourished vine a source of recycled energy. At times, the ants may even be called up to defend their abode from parasites or hungry herbivores...or curious botanists !
The ants' leftovers are much appreciated, as this cross section of one of the hollow leaves show. Roots extend hungrily deep into the ant nest to suck up whatever is available.

Many Dischidia species have modified leaves serving as ant hotels; this species, however, is the largest one. In 1831, Wallich described this plant in his book Plantae Asiatic Rariores and proceeded to name this plant Dischidia rafflesiana, in memory of his good friend who, by then, had passed. However, it was later found to be synonymous with a plant named Collyris major, described some twenty years earlier, so after a taxonomic revision and applying the strict nomenclature rule, this plant should now be correctly called Dischidia major.

The name had changed, but the plant's the same. The ants don't care a hoot. Even Sir Stamford, I suspect, might not be stirred - after all he already had the largest flower in the world named after him.

But I'd bet he would be reeling if he knew that this island nation he had founded just gave out its first gambling license to a casino, almost two hundred years after he out-lawed it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Joey Palms

Small Johannesteijsmannia magnifica growing in a nursery in Singapore.
There are 4 species of Johannesteijsmannia, or Joey palms, which has the centre of distribution in Peninsula Malaysia. These are one of the most architectural palms - with large broad or lance-shaped undivided leaves. J. altifrons, not yet full grown, used as an architectural specimen in a shady corner of Singapore zoo.

The other 2 species, J. lanceolata and J. perakensis are rare species found in northern Peninsula Malaysia and they are under threat from deforestation in the wild, although I believe they would be brought into the landscaping trade very soon, if not already.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The ephemeral fragrance of Pteroceras pallidum

一天就調謝的小蘭花﹐ 不奢留芳百世﹐ 無悔地绽芬吐芳。。。。
There is little mention of the fragrance of this little native plant with leaves hardly 8cm in length. Hence, I was totally taken aback when I realised that the partially fruity vanilla-like aroma tickling my senses came from this solitary flower. It reminded me of Phalenopsis bellina but is more citrus-like. Despite its small size, it sure doesn't stinge when it comes to attracting its pollinators .... perhaps there isn't much time - with the flower lasting only a day.

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